I always look forward to exploring a destination, but my recent trip to Jamaica was a bit more special than usual. Most people come to Jamaica for the all-inclusive resorts with Western comforts and to soak up as much beach time as possible. This time my journey emphasized the native arts, cuisine, and less-traveled areas of Jamaica.
I flew into Kingston on the southern part of the island, a hub that is used more by locals and those on business rather than mainstream vacationers (Montego Bay on the North side of the island, Negril on the West side, Whitehouse on the South West and Ocho Rios on the East side are the destinations used by most vacationers). Kingston is the largest city in Jamaica, the Capital and considered to be the cultural heart of the island. It’s here that I began my journey.
My first night I stayed at the beautiful Terra Nova Hotel, a favorite of local celebrities and business travelers…and I could see why. The grandeur of the hotel and its attentive staff made one instantly feel like a VIP. After checking in, I headed to Redbones Blues Café for dinner. Redbones is owned by the lovely Enola and her family. She took the time to speak about the history of her family’s involvement in the Jamaican culinary and music scene. Redbones is known as a Kingston classic for both. The menu is a fusion of Jamaican and international delights, while entertainment is local and always live. There’s a great collection of photographs on the wall to document the famous faces that have been through!
The Blue Mountains are a notable landmark and popular for hiking, but I made the journey for a different reason: the famous Blue Mountain coffee. At the UCC Estate high in the mountains, coffee is meticulously grown, harvested, and roasted for the utmost discerning of coffee aficionados. Staff graciously showed the way around the property, explaining the precise bean selection process and-of course-pouring out a cup with a side of rum cake to enjoy. I was left speechless for the quality and flavor I was enjoying. Most importantly, yes, you can purchase beans to take home with you! I left extra room in my suitcase in anticipation of this purchase.
Conveniently, Strawberry Hill Jamaica Luxury Resort is a short drive away through the mountains from the UCC Estate.
“Poised on the steep slopes of the Blue Mountains, Strawberry Hill rejoices in a rather special eco-system. Its unusual setting is balanced between Kingston’s Liguanea Plain and the mountaintop’s rare broad-leaf woodlands. The warm northeast trade winds rise when they meet the Blue Mountains. Clouds are formed directly over the peaks and provide the rain that creates the mountains’ famous blue hue and its distinctive microclimate: tropical Jamaican heat in the daytime and a welcome breeze at night. This singular contrast encourages biodiversity and enables us to grow an extraordinary variety of plants and foliage in our celebrated gardens. One of Strawberry Hill’s simplest and yet greatest pleasures is watching the perpetually shifting cloud formations wreath the mountaintops as they drift across from the far side of the island”.
There’s truly no better place for those that enjoy boutique resorts and a good cup of coffee with a view. I had to tear myself away from the stunning infinity pool to sit down for an authentic Jamaican lunch. On the menu and consequently, my plate: ox tail, goat, rice and beans, and fried plantains. It was one of the heartiest meals I’ve ever had, and even though it took over an hour to drive down from the mountains, I was still not the slightest bit hungry upon arrival at the next destination. As soon as I saw the sign, my stomach instantly made room. Devon House I-Scream was packed with locals. Their signature flavor –Stout (perfect for a Wisconsin local!). I felt ready to join the little kids running around in bliss after eating what was certainly the best ice cream on earth.
I made my way from Kingston to Port Antonio the following day. One of the highlights of my journey loomed in Boston Bay, which was a perfectly placed stop along the route. Considered to be the mecca for jerk sauce (and home to the yearly jerk festival), I knew my experience with Americanized jerk was about to be blown to pieces at Goldteeth’s Jerk Centre. Jerk chicken, pork, beef, goat…even jerk lobster. I tried it all and was lost for words to describe how amazing this authentic jerk was. Pair it with a signature Jamaican Red Stripe beer and your taste buds will thank you extra. I took home my own bottle of the secret recipe sauce, passed down through three generations of self-proclaimed “jerkmen.”
It was mango season in Jamaica, and my next stop at the Hotel Mocking Bird Hill, a romantic 10 room eco-chic hideaway, made good use of it. Barbara, the owner, guided us through her quaint property and joined the table for lunch. Courses of fresh rolls, salad, mango gazpacho and lobster were followed by mango sorbet.
It was truly a day of luxurious delights. That evening, I checked into my own private villa at the Trident Hotel in Port Antonio. The precise and beautiful detail of the property make this hotel a favorite of celebrities and those that enjoy a quieter, secluded space. The food, the drinks, my private pool, the generous staff…I could go on! It’s fair to say that they all were significant in making me feel like royalty in my own corner of the world that I wish I would never leave.
Nonetheless, I had to make my way to Ocho Rios for the last part of my Jamaican journey. This area of Jamaica is similar to, Montego Bay for its array of all-inclusive resorts but the topography is quite different. While Montego Bay is on the flatter side, Ocho Rios is comprised of terraced hillsides with the resorts perched on top. On the way I stopped at Firefly, which was the final home of Sir Noel Coward, the English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer. How fortunate I felt to take in the breathtaking view of Jamaica from the room that inspired his piece, “A Room with a View.”
Jamaica was once home to many notable literary figures. At Golden Eye Resort, I explored the space that Ian Fleming wrote the James Bond novels in. The property has since been turned into a haven for A-list celebrities and several presidents (trees planted around the property by famous figures have plaques listing the names and dates of visit). I could not believe how picturesque the beaches and turquoise Caribbean waters were. This resort is truly the epitome of an exclusive getaway.
My last resort checked-in was the Moon Palace Jamaica Grande-a large all-inclusive property that sits perfectly high above the ocean-and reflected on my journey. It’s indisputable that the “one love” vibe of Jamaica stems from the people who live, eat, and create here. It’s been said that tourists enjoy the all-inclusive side of Jamaica; travelers seek the lesser-known, local spots. I couldn’t agree more. Whichever you feel yourself identifying with, Lisa Hoppe Travel Consulting has a collection of personal experiences and knowledge to send you on your very own trip of a lifetime.